Newest Reviews:

New Movies -  

The Tunnel


The Tall Man

Mama Africa





Brownian Movement

Last Ride

[Rec]³: Genesis

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

Indie Game: The Movie

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Old Movies -

Touki Bouki: The Journey of the Hyena

Drums Along the Mohawk

The Chase

The Heiress

Show People

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry



Miracle Mile

The Great Flamarion

Dark Habits

Archives -

Recap: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 , 2005, 2006, 2007 , 2008 , 2009 , 2010 , 2011 , 2012

All reviews alphabetically

All reviews by star rating

All reviews by release year


Screening Log



E-mail me




Waiting for Happiness (Abderrahmane Sissako) 2002


    West African director Abderrahmane Sissako’s Waiting for Happiness uses the contested national backbone of modern Mauritania to illustrate greater concerns about globalization and cultural homogenization. That small nation, which gained its independence from French West Africa in 1960, used to be perched between Gallic political rule and Muslim tradition. Apparently, though, current global economic trends are pushing French culture, along with the culture of the rest of the free world, back into this country’s simple farming and shipping culture, and if Sissako’s film is anything to judge by, it’s taking its toll. Things appear placid at first. Our first view of the town emerges almost mystically through a sandstorm, suggesting that the settlement is somehow still part of the natural world. By the end of the movie, when the images recede back into that veil of sand, we’re not so sure that such a bond still exists. The final image of the film explicitly suggests a new birth, in which one of the residents of the village emerges as a distinctly new entity, but I found it difficult to pinpoint precisely what kind of new creature he was supposed to be. Whether he’s become an avatar melding old traditions with modern practices or he’s supposed to be unequivocally lost to the new world seemed rather vague to me, and for that reason, I found it difficult to ascertain exactly what Sissako’s view on the changes in the country was.


    My gut tells me that we’re supposed to see a melding of cultures there, since much of the rest of the film is delivered without much evidence of a clear position. Waiting for Happiness seems to inertly observe what it feels are inevitable changes to its environment. Such resolute resignation to things initially feels simplistic, but eventually a little sadness emerges from the stance. It’s as if Sissako feels that to try to combat such a supposed global menace is useless. The best he seems able to do is hold out some hope that shreds of what was might remain in the future. It’s an odd viewpoint for such an overtly political film to have, and as such much of the viewer’s time will be spent trying to grasp the film’s attitude, and once the audience figures out what’s being said, the filmmaker’s relative passivity will make it tough for them to really care. The pretty images (there are several lovely shots where it’s almost impossible to discern the sea from the shore) and the mildly amusing scenes that take place between the locals (how many Africans does it take to change a light bulb?) stir interest momentarily, but the movie lacks a compelling narrative motivator.


* * 

Jeremy Heilman